Whose petticoat is this?

rose-01082010067Uncovering the secrets of a rare eighteenth-century court mantua

Stored in a tin trunk under a bed for many years, the Doddershall garment, one of only 16 extant court mantuas, is of exceptional quality. It is extensively hand-embroidered on ivory silk satin with silk, silver and silver gilt thread in a pattern of naturalistic flowers and with metal thread work after the rococo style. It presented in a considerably modified state, having been extensively altered at least twice in the nineteenth century. This paper documents the path of recent research. Many questions were posed: how could it be dated and who wore it? Where are similar surviving garments, if any? What shape was it originally? How and where was it made, and by whom? Who altered it, and why? How much did it cost?

The study progressed from discovering the distant eighteenth-century world in which a diverse group of tradespeople variously contributed to the finished garment, to analysing the composition of fabrics and threads; from historical and genealogical enquiries, which led to the identity of the likely wearer, to an estimation of the cost of its manufacture – a figure that was breath-taking and which was informed by means of reproducing detailed embroidery samples. The conclusions that emerged in this study were made possible by the marriage of practice-led techniques with academic investigation.

First delivered in June 2013
at the symposium of Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand (CTANZ) in Auckland [30 minutes]
and subsequently at the conference in October 2013 of the Decorative Arts and Textile Society in Bath [30 minutes]

and in January 2014 as the Roy Godden Lecture, Royal College of Art, London [60 minutes]